Mom To Mom, Here are 5 Tips For Stress-Free Family Portraits

Sep 18, 2023

The annual holiday family photoshoot can be very stressful. As moms, we work so hard to coordinate everything – school activities, sports, playgroups, friends, all of the things that make our kids’ lives amazing. But I have a few tips to share to make this year’s family portraits successful and stress-free.

Annual family portraits are our thing, it’s the chance for us to be in the pictures, everyone looking great and happy. But like everything else in our life, it’s hard and stressful. As a mom of two, I understand. So, mom to mom, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way!


Ok, so I just did this years holiday session. Honestly, it was super last minute. We had a cancellation on the calendar so we slid in with 2 days notice. Every mama knows what that means, I didn’t have time to plan and buy new outfits. But taking my own advice, I let the ladies pick out their favorite outfits. I told them to pick what makes them feel amazing. Caitie picked a pink, cropped sweater (why is everything cropped these days) and a faired jean (which my grunge-loving self is obsessed with). Lorelai selected her leather jacket, her signature look as she calls it. And we rolled into the studio super casual, no expectations, no stress. And I’m obsessed with this years images. It perfectly captures their relationship, giggles and all!

– Lara

Annual family portraits are our thing, it’s the chance for us to be in the pictures, everyone looking great and happy. But like everything else in our life, it’s hard and stressful. As a mom of two, I understand. So, mom to mom, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way!

Top 5 Tips for Stress-Free Family Portraits

  1. Don’t book during nap time
  2. Don’t give them a device just before coming
  3. Don’t wait to select attire
  4. Don’t stress, so they won’t stress
  5. Life isn’t perfect, but your family is

Don’t book a photoshoot during nap time.

Photo of a toddler crying during their sibling's Newborn Session. Not scheduling during nap times help create stress-free family portraits.

Ok, I appreciate it might be the only time you could possibly make the photo session work because life is busy. Busy with jobs, sports, school & all the things you do every day. But here’s the truth, it won’t work. Kids are tired during nap time, it’s like asking you to wake up at 3 am and be on your best behavior and act happy. It’s just not going to happen.

Also, don’t book too close to nap time if you have a car sleeper! This is for those kids that fall asleep in the car no matter what because you are going to have to wake them up and transition them into being the very best version of themselves. It’s not really a fair ask of them, and it’s not going to lead to stress-free family portraits. So bottom line, avoid nap time, it never ends well.

Don’t give them a device just before coming (even in the car).

I know it’s tempting to give them the device so you can get ready for photos, too. Or so you can get the rest of the crew ready. But we all know how it goes when you take the device away. Maybe it’s tears, pouting, complaining, or simple sulking. Any way you cut it, you will have to take the device away and it never ends well. This tip is for toddlers and teens, alike!

Don't force kids to wear things they hate - top tip to stress-free family portraits.

This also extends into the studio, under no circumstances should you pull a device out while you’re in the middle of a shoot. If you thought taking away the device beforehand was bad, this is so much worse.

Here’s the deal, it’s totally with good intentions, as is everything we do as parents. You think they love Baby Shark so ‘I’ll just put the music on’. But the outcome is always the same, split attention, you running around trying to regain attention, and tears – yours and/or theirs! Our team of photographers are experts in working with kids, let them do their thing. They’ll keep the kid entertained and the session quick before their attention span is lost. I promise this is the best route to stress-free family portraits!

Don’t wait to select attire, It’s one of the most stressful parts.

Selecting an outfit for everyone that makes them feel amazing, coordinates with the rest of the family, and arrives in time is crazy stressful.

Plan outfits ahead of time for stress-free family portraits.

So here are some thoughts. First, dress them like them. If little Tommy doesn’t like structured pants, don’t wrestle him into structured pants – he’ll fight them the entire session and then the images will be of him fighting his pants. If little Becky doesn’t like big bows, she’ll rip them out of her hair and then it’s either a fight with tears or super unruly hair.

If the teens don’t want to wear the matching jammies because they are too little kiddish, don’t make them because they will sulk or worse try to hide their beautiful bodies because they aren’t comfortable.

So here’s the real tip, for older kids, let them pick their own clothes as long as:

  1. They coordinate with the rest of the family: Give them three colors to choose between. This also ensures you coordinate, not match.
  2. You’re all going the same place: One of you can’t be in jeans and the other in a ball gown.
  3. The clothes fit: Too tight clothing (or items they love but have grown out of) will make them hide and you will see how uncomfortable they are in the photos. Too short skirts will ride up when they sit down, so make sure you see if the outfit works both standing and sitting. And on the flipside, if it’s too big and they are swimming in their clothes it doesn’t look as neat.

For younger kids, you totally pick the clothing but remember:

  1. Make sure they are comfortable: that their clothes aren’t too itchy or the shoes too tight. Because the difference between us adults and littles is that we can tell you a tag is scratching us or that the lace is too itchy.
  2. Wardrobe changes while super adorbs are often the downfall: No one likes to be warm and comfy and then have their clothes ripped off and a new outfit put on and now everything is different, so very different.
  3. Know their triggers and avoid them: Even if it’s super cute, you know they hate shoes or THOSE shoes, or THAT bow. It’s best to leave the fight for a different day.

Here’s the deal, we know selecting outfits for everyone is hard. Check out stylist’s, Jaime Diehl, top tips here.

If you don’t stress, they won’t stress.

I know, easier said than done. I’m a mom and totally guilty as charged. Even I stress over family portraits. To be fair, I used to stress the most. Because this is my livelihood, it HAD to be perfect. Then I stopped and now it’s fun. And even better, I get the most amazing pictures of the ladies laughing, giggling and being their true selves.

Is everyone dressed, not fussing, hair needs brushed (again)? I know it’s easier for me – my ladies are in the studio all the time. For most folks, this is a once-a-year activity. It’s what we moms look forward to and dream about to make sure we capture the kids as they are each year.

Kids feed off your energy. We all know we are becoming our mothers. But little ones and teens (even more so), totally absorb and reflect the energy you put out there. If you come flying into the studio barking orders at the kids, telling them how to smile, or fussing with the outfits it puts them on edge.

Guess what, no one takes their best picture when anxious, frustrated, or annoyed. If you come in calm and knowing that our team of experts will run the session, get the images, and the kids will have fun doing it, you can relax, and when you relax, they relax. Then you will get more than you ever expected you could get out of the session. You haven’t worked yourself up and they won’t fight you when you come back next year.

Life isn’t perfect, but your family is. So no need to stress.

But it’s super true. There is no such thing as perfect, but there is perfect to you. You might be on Pinterest and see an amazing pose and want to recreate it. But here’s the deal, that image might have more or less family members, they might be shaped differently, they might have a different vibe. Our team is trained to pose you to get the very best image of you.

True story, I pulled some posing ideas to share with Kaeleigh for our own headshots. Super cute ones, of like 6 foot tall, 23 year old models. Guess what I’m not? No way those poses would work for a shorty like me! So I trusted my photographer and love my photos.

In a nutshell, because we all know busy mamas can’t read the whole article, here’s how to get stress-free family portraits.

So the lesson is that life isn’t perfect, but you’re not trying to get perfect images. You are trying to get images that perfectly represent your family. When you relax and let the session happen, the most beautiful thing will occur. We’ll capture all those moments that are perfectly them.

Here is my niece Maggie during her Senior Portrait Session. This little laugh, it’s perfectly her and I want to make sure I have this memory forever. Giving her the room to be her, allowed us to capture a moment so precious!

Life is hard and family portraits are like one hour, once a year. And we know you want them to be perfect but as a mom, I’m here to tell you. Don’t try so hard. If you pick the right photographer, plan in advance, and relax, everyone else will too. And you’ll come away with amazing photos and an amazing experience.

Here’s the real deal, all the tips are amazing but you also have to select the right photographer. We always recommend working with a team that specializes in working with kids, makes your life easier, and has lots of clients who love them. That might just describe us at Ivory Tree.

So check out our holiday looks here!

About the Author

Lara Aman Mattey

Founder I Owner I Ivory Tree

Lara is the coolest person alive, according to her husband, Nick, & two little ladies, Caitie & Lorelai. But she thinks her time is limited on that statement as they continue to grow older. Lara comes from a large family, with whom she is still very close with & you’ll often see shared through the blog and on social media. She went to Penn State (We Are…) where she met Nick.

Ivory Tree's very own photographer, Marcy shot her newborn photography sessions & Lara was hooked! Lara is not a photographer, super weird, we know. But lives for the experience, creative direction, and meeting all the cool folks who come through the Ivory Tree Portraits studio!

In addition to studio awards, Lara was also recognized at a Women of Influence on the Main Line in 2023.

Follow along as she shares studio antics, personal antidotes, & fun stuff going on in the community.

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